The Damned is one of the best books of 2015, and I’m thrilled to have Andrew on the blog today to talk about it, and more! Please give him a warm welcome!
As you know, I really enjoyed The Damned, and really enjoyed the complex family dynamics in the book. What inspired you to write about twins? What made you decide to cast Ash as the “bad seed” over Danny?
First off, thank you for the thumbs up! I worked hard on making this a story of character and family as much as a dark fantasy about near-death experience, so it’s very gratifying to hear you note this.
Okay, to the question: I think once I knew that the main event of the novel would involve a “crossing over” and back again, I immediately also knew that whoever did the crossing and returning would have to bring something back with him/her. There are various frightening things one might retrieve from the underworld, of course, but my gut told me to keep it intimate, keep it human. A family member. A sibling. But one you’d rather see remain on the other side.
This line of thought – family can be hell! – inevitably brought me to twins. I’ve always been fascinated by the relationships I’ve observed of the twins I’ve known in my life, how varied and unexpected and unreadable they can be (at least to non-twins). As for why I made Ash the “bad seed” over Danny? I guess because I saw part of myself in Danny from the start, and imagined all the ways I might be plagued by a spirit who had the special advantage of having known me all my life.
Did you do any research into the relationship between twins for the book?
I have a close friend who has fraternal twins. They most definitely aren’t Danny and Ash (I’m happy to say for all concerned) but they have been engaged in a very unique conflict more or less since birth. Watching them together – how they fight, but also how fiercely they protect each other – was my main source of research. Projecting in my mind all the ways they will be joined throughout their lives even as the battles and scrabbling for “fairness” continues.
You created some very, very creepy “afterlife” scenes. What was the inspiration for those (other than your wonderfully twisted imagination, of course)?
My first step was to impose certain constraints on what my underworld could be, how it could look, the rules it operated under, while at the same time using some of the existing models (for instance, Dante’s architecture of hell’s ever-deepening levels). Among those constraints was that the underworld of The Damned had to look and feel like the real world, and some wholly imagined, fantastical place. A real location altered in surreal ways, as it is with dreams you know are dreams but nevertheless stay with you for the remainder of your day’s waking hours. In other words, I felt that keeping my afterlife as grounded and recognizable as possible – without simply mirroring the real world – was the key to making it at once convincing and frightening.
You’re a pro at writing the scaries, but what is something that truly terrifies you?
Any harm that might come to those I love.
Your work has certainly inspired other authors, but which authors have inspired you?
When I write these names down, it looks rather nonsensical – how could they inspire any one vision? – and I don’t know how it’s all come together myself, but I guess that’s one of the great things about reading: you never know its effects, the places it will take you. But for me, the brightest lights have been (in no particular order) Alice Munro, Stephen King, Ian McEwan, Margaret Atwood, Henry James, Graham Greene, Joseph Conrad.
If you could experience one book again for the first time, which one would it be?
Ah, to be re-virginized! Can I say two? The Handmaid’s Tale and Heart of Darkness.
You have a law degree AND an English degree! What was the event that made you decide not to ultimately pursue law?
I went to law school because I couldn’t figure out a way of making a living from an English degree without pursuing the Ph.D., and I knew I didn’t have the focus for that. So law was a Plan B (or Plan C?) right from the start. I pretty much knew I was in the wrong place from day one. But I was brought up that once you start something you have to finish it (poor advice, I’ve since learned) so I finished the damn thing. Once I graduated from law school, I was lost all over again. To reward myself for finishing, I moved to a small town and wrote a novel. It wasn’t a “plan,” it wasn’t done as a step toward forging a career. I just had to do it. And that novel, Lost Girls, to my endless surprise, ended up being sold all over the place. I’ve been able to write fiction full-time ever since.
What are you currently reading? Are there any books out this year that you’re particularly looking forward to?
I’m currently reading The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (along with everyone else, it seems). I’m also doing a lot of research reading which I can’t mention because the topic is kind of a spoiler in itself. As for books I’m looking forward to this year? Well, there’s a new Stephen King, right?
When you’re not writing, how do you spend your free time (when you can find it)?
We have two young kids, aged 8 and 5, so a lot of so-called free time is spent shuttling them around, watching them do stuff, taking them to the park or the ice rink or the movies. It’s the most enjoyable pain in the ass you could imagine.
What’s next for you?
I’m working on a new novel. Can’t say much about it, of course. But it’s going to be scary.
About The Damned:
Most people who have a near-death experience come back alone…
After he survived a fire that claimed the life of his twin sister, Ashleigh, Danny Orchard wrote a bestselling memoir about going to Heaven and back. But despite the resulting fame and fortune, he’s never been able to enjoy his second chance at life.
Ash won’t let him.
In life, Danny’s charming and magnetic twin had been a budding psychopath who privately terrorized her family—and death hasn’t changed her wicked ways. Ash has haunted Danny for twenty years and now, just when he’s met the love of his life and has a chance at real happiness, she wants more than ever to punish him for being alive—so she sets her sights on Danny’s new wife and stepson.
Danny knows what Ash really wants is him, and he’s prepared to sacrifice himself in order to save the ones he loves. But to do this, he’ll have to meet his sister where she now resides—and hope that this time, he can keep her there forever.